Saturday 17 March 2018

Dubrovnik: Tourists could be turned away under new plans to protect old town

UNESCO site needs to 'reset'

Dubrovnik in Croatia
Dubrovnik in Croatia
A cable car over Dubrovnik, Croatia

Hugh Morris

Dubrovnik will drastically cut the number of visitors allowed into its ancient centre in just two years, the mayor has revealed.

The new limit, designed to prevent ruinous overcrowding, will go further than Unesco’s recommendation of permitting only 8,000 people a day inside the hefty Medieval walls.

Instead, a cap will be put at 4,000.

Mayor Mato Franković, elected to the position in June, told Telegraph Travel that the move was to protect the quality of the experience for visitors to the Croatian city.

“We don’t want to go with the maximum, we want to go lower than that,” he said.

Franković said Dubrovnik needs to “reset” after a period of unchecked growth in the number of day trippers and cruise passengers that flood into the tiny city each day.

A cable car over Dubrovnik, Croatia
A cable car over Dubrovnik, Croatia

Unesco last year warned Dubrovnik’s world heritage status was at risk, while recent reports have conveyed local concerns that the city is being blighted by the daily hordes.

Authorities announced in January that CCTV cameras would be introduced to monitor - and, if necessary, stop - crowds passing through the city’s three gates, but Franković says more must be done, including cancelling cruise ship stops.

“I am not here to make people happy but to make the quality of life [in the city] better,” he said.

“Some of the cruise lines will disagree with what I’m saying but my main goal is to ensure quality for tourists and I cannot do it by keeping the situation as it is.

Dubrovnik, Croatia
Dubrovnik, Croatia

“We will lose money in the next two years - a million euros maybe by cutting the number of tourists - but in the future we will gain much more. We deserve to be a top quality destination.”

The mayor is attempting to steer Dubrovnik away from the experiences of Venice and Barcelona, where tensions over numbers of tourists have led to protests and anti-visitor sentiment.

He is targeting the hundreds of cruise ships that arrive at the port two miles from the Old Town. In 2016, 529 ships called there, bringing 799,916 passengers, up from 475 in 2015 and 463 in 2014.

Last year in August, in one day alone, 10,388 visitors bought tickets to walk Dubrovnik’s ramparts, a record number expected to be topped this summer, while the number of permanent residents has slipped from 5,000 in 1991 to 1,157.

Franković has his work cut out to reverse the exceptional growth Dubrovnik has witnessed since the end of the Yugoslav Wars in the Nineties.

“It was something that was not controlled and not planned,” said Franković, explaining that he would cut the number of cruise ships arriving at peak time and attempt to move them away from peak times, such as the weekend. He also said he would impose limits on tour operators running day trips to the city.

“Currently we have a problem with Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Those three days are complicated for us. We cannot have from 8am to 2pm, six cruise ships, then after 2pm, nothing at all,” he said.

“Forbidding a bigger number coming into the city at the same time will gain a quality. I am 100 per cent sure the cruise ship passengers will be happy with that.”

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